I’m a Muslim. Let’s talk about my eating disorder.

Posted 04/12/2017

I didn’t talk until the age of five. Somehow my mouth didn’t let me speak, as the words were clinging on too tight, as if they were scared to fall from my brain. Because of this I was sent to a school where they would teach me how to talk and develop my social skills. It wasn’t until I started high school that I was put with the ‘mainstream kids’.

It was around this time I became extremely concerned about my body. I was worried that if I didn’t lose weight, I would get bullied by all the “skinny” kids. Unfortunately, that time came when I started high school – and my body was still the same as before. I enjoyed food. Food was sort of a friend to me. Whenever I was really sad, I turned to food. It was the only thing that seemed to cheer me up when something traumatic happened.

Before high school, I was bullied for being “too fat” when I started attending madrasah (school) at the local mosque. There were girls who had the ideal body I wanted and that made me really depressed. Apparently, I was an embarrassment, and being fat was the catalyst for people to pick on me. I felt even the teachers wanted to get rid of me, because I was a “baby” due to my previous verbal difficulties. I cannot fully explain how difficult mosque was for me. If anyone said or did something, I literally combusted into tears. One time, I was suspended for almost half a year because I told my teacher, “I hate you.” Another day at madrasah, I ran out and wanted to go home, because I was tired of the bullying. I was fed up with everyone, including my teacher, for not helping to stop it. I was deeply in trouble when I got home for disrespecting my teacher. Unfortunately, I never managed to escape.

That was one factor that made me apprehensive towards anyone. When I started high school, I just wanted to be in my own world. I did make nice friends, but it was an on and off thing.  I was bullied at school – not as extreme as when I was at the mosque; I was constantly reminded of my features and the two main things I was most insecure about – my lips and my weight.

When I was in my second year of high school, this was when things with body image escalated and my eating disorder developed. I was constantly referred to hospital because I had a “stomach and vomiting problem”. After that period, my disorder was focused on restricting. I was into drugstore magazines and I tried comparing my body to a lot of the models in those magazines. I used to adore the way they looked and that was my goal to looking great at school. They were also “Islamic” magazines that portray the perfect figure for a Muslim woman. This definitely encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing. I craved to be complimented as I was losing weight. That’s what made me keep going. My family, at the time, also didn’t think of anything like an eating disorder. They did notice I was losing weight, but it was simply thought of as a normal thing, because I was “growing”.

Later on, I was introduced to laxatives, and started abusing them alongside other negative behaviours. I do think because I am Muslim and I fast for Ramadan, I was used to not eating for long periods of time. That definitely had an impact in triggering me to starve myself, because it made me feel “healthy”. Things really escalated when I was in fifth year, because I started to realise what I was doing isn’t normal. However, I didn’t think I was ill, and I agreed with anyone that assumed I was “attention-seeking”. Deep inside though, I knew it was much more than this. I was constantly walking out of lessons and going home early because I felt done with school. I hated myself. There was a point when I wanted my life to end. I now know that it’s okay not to be okay and that it’s important to learn from the past.

After years of fallouts, crying and the endless cycle of torture, I managed to recover from bulimia with the help of CAHMS. I’ve learnt that that self-love is important, and keeping in mind that other people’s thoughts don’t matter. Continue doing what you love and being in a good support network. I definitely would say to everyone out there that your mental health does not define who you are or your faith. Just being there for somebody or being with someone can really help with recovery. Even if it’s silent, that support is so helpful. 

Contributed by Ameena